Today’s Drinking Story:
Here we find Tom Williams sinking lower than he’d ever imagined during a drunken visit to his birthplace.
I fell in a hole.
Not a figurative hole. Not a spiritual hole. Not a pothole or chuckhole or gopher hole. A damp, dark opening in the ground, deep enough for me, at six foot four, to be in over my head, wide enough to stand in the center and barely scrape the sides with my fingertips outstretched.
How did I get there?
It was October of 1987. I was with some friends from college in Athens, Ohio—the town in which I was born, but also home to Ohio University, a school so legendary for its partying, the rumor went that Playboy itself had refused to consider it for its top twenty party schools because Mr. Hefner and his crack staff’s list was comprised of amateurs, a status OU’s professional partiers had long abandoned. And if one attended another Midwestern institute of higher learning and was visiting OU in October, that meant one was there for the pinnacle of debauchery: Halloween. Estimates promised thirty, forty, maybe fifty thousand visitors would be massing the streets. Every bar was packed to capacity. The streets teemed with undergraduates in ripped togas, werewolf masks, Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. A creative sort the year I was there had constructed a papier mache Charlie Brown head that bobbed above the revelers. Rather than praise his fine work, most of us leapt up and slugged the mask, assuring the wearer a monster of a headache the next day.
Some highlights, or lowlights, depending upon your preference:
- Drinking the last of a forty of Colt 45 while my friend Doug pissed in an empty popcorn bucket, twenty miles outside of Athens.
- Paying a kindly matriarch five dollars to park in her church’s lot. (“Be safe, boys,” she said.)
- Finding our friend Richard exactly where he promised to be, carrying a six pack of tallboys with three empty loops
- The slow comfortable screws that tasted like cough syrup
- The headless draft beers in plastic cups
- The tequila slammers that bubbled precipitously back up
- Headless draft beers redux
- The swirl of bodies in the street
- The girl who ripped the already gaping hole in my jeans then disappeared
- The Jack and Cokes in plastic cups
- The rum and Cokes in plastic cups
- Headless draft beers part III
How many did I have that day? Too many. What kept me from passing out in the street? Providence? Years of binge-drinking practice? A genetic disposition toward heavy drinking?
Whatever the case, the combination of the drinks had turned ugly, inside and out. I was angry—I was often back then, a sullen, suspicious mulatto given to bouts of superiority and simpering. But this anger was the worst kind: drunken and bellicose and certain everyone was against me. Friends, passersby, the fates. I must have been a wonderful companion. Something I don’t recollect t clearly had set me off and I stormed off and started walking back to the car, not knowing the street names I zigzagged, or that I was headed in the opposite direction.
Why did I want to get back to the car? Oh yes, because I was due in Columbus the next afternoon, ninety minutes or so west of Athens, for a minority student graduate school preview. Two nights in a hotel, banquets, speeches, visits from faculty. A pretty nice deal, to be honest, yet on that early Sunday morning in Athens, I wasn’t thinking of anything but whatever grudge had separated me from my friends.
The terrain had shifted from street to mud. I had no idea where I was, even though, as I’ve said, Athens is the town in which I was born. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a few orange flags, which meant nothing to my soaked brain at the time, but now in my memory signal the caution I should have heeded. The ground felt softer and each step less secure. Then the ground gave way.
To say I was swallowed by the earth is an understatement. Yet I did fall into what must have been the making of a pretty deep hole. All I could see was stars. Real ones above and those that fluttered around my head after landing in a heap. I may have cracked a rib. I know that I was suddenly sober and wanting nothing but to get the hell out of here. Which I did, by jabbing my toes and fingers into the hole’s walls and scrambling as if a fall to a deeper and darker hole awaited me.
I wish I could say I learned a lesson from this. I wish I could say that I emerged whole from my hole, but I didn’t. I did more unwise and unsafe things and shouted at my friends when I didn’t need to and drank too much over and over again. Yet it’s the writer in me—aided and abetted by all these shenanigans and the education I got (as I did get one of the fellowships for minority students at Ohio State)—that can’t help but look at his moment as one so complete, so rich, so perfectly illustrative of my foolhardiness, my resilience. Still I wonder: did I get my glimpse or the abyss in Athens, Ohio? Or did I just fall in a hole? Either way, I got out.